Living with the new normal, redefining success in recession

For many people, the recession is undeniably taking its toll with its cruel rounds of job losses, spiking foreclosure rates and plummeting stock values.

While the outlook looks grim for many, a recession or a crisis of this sort may be just the spark needed to make personal change. Although our pockets are not as flush with cash as they once were, and jobs are in dismal supply, feeling pinched can change our routines. It may mean family members moving back under one roof, people going back to school to hone new job skills or forgoing expensive purchases. Surviving tough times makes us more adaptable in the longer run, according to some experts.

“Don’t waste a good crisis,” author and blogger Steve Goldberg said by phone from his Florida home. “What I find fascinating is when we are challenged with life’s circumstances, our goal is to get through it as quickly as possible. The truth is our real learning and insights come through challenging times.”

Goldberg, a life coach who runs a Web site, sees the recession as an opportunity for personal growth.

Too often feelings of success are linked to financial success. However, true happiness comes from the closeness of relationships with others, he said.

“We’re used to having a lot of things that we strive for that are not what we need,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said he started his Web site in March, and it has received 13,000 hits, enough traffic that he determined “it passed the litmus test that we have a message that is worth sharing at a bigger level.”

The idea came from counseling sessions in which he asked clients about the upside to problems forced upon people by the recession. Those answers astounded him. People talked of reconnecting with family and friends, turning toward life’s simple pleasures and enjoying living within their means.

There’s no denying we take on our share of stress. Overall, Denver residents appear more stressed compared to the rest of the country, according to a report, titled “Stress in America,” released in November by the American Psychological Association.

Denver residents are more likely than other Americans to cite work, money and job stability as significant sources of stress and are more likely to rate their stress in the extreme range, the study showed.

According to the magazine Psychology Today, trying to stay happy in a recession has less to do with money and more to do with finding a true purpose. It lists spending money on experiences rather than material objects, pursuing meaningful goals, living in the present moment and focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses as ways to create happiness.

Goldberg offers some practical strategies for managing stress. He carefully chooses what media to read or listen to in order to avoid being bombarded with reports of gloom and doom. He chooses times when he’s not already emotionally spent to open bills.

Goldberg, who describes himself as a “learned optimist,” said not everyone, including himself, is born optimistic. But it is a trait that can be learned. Part of the struggle is learning to live with a “new normal,” which may mean going back to old-fashioned concepts of living within our means and asking the tough questions about what personal success means, he said.

“Maybe getting that new car no longer makes sense. We’ve gotten people to believe that you can have anything you want, whenever you want,” Goldberg said. “I don’t think that’s healthy for individuals or for the planet.”


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